COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers have some substantial competition in the bidding war for Dwight Howard. Even though they can offer him more money, other teams have some attractive packages they can put in front of him to make the decision more difficult than it seems.
The list is short, but all of the teams are real candidates. From best-to-worst, here are the five teams that are best-suited to land this summer's most prized commodity.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The incumbent is looking less like a sure thing as more reports that claim to have insight into Howard's thinking surface. Among the most notable was that he took issue with the way he was utilized in the offense.
The truth is that no one really knows what he's thinking.
But there are several important facts to consider when it comes to re-upping with the Purple-and-Gold. First, the Lakers retain his Larry Bird rights under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. That means that they can pay him one additional year and three percent more annually over the life of the contract than any other team vying for his services - that equates to over $30 million.
Next, the Lakers are banking on the fact that prestige, location, lifestyle and history will all contribute to him wanting to stay. Will the alleged issues he has playing in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system be enough to dissuade him and spurn all of those perks?
Another important fact is that Howard has become one of the more disliked and polarizing figures across the league after the ugly scene he caused a season ago before the Orlando Magic sent him to Los Angeles. He's a happy-go-lucky figure who wants to be liked. What would it do for his image if he were to leave another fan base, this time one of the largest in the league, out to dry?
Even though there are factors against them, the Lakers still have to be considered frontrunners.
The Houston Rockets are today's version of the 2014 Lakers. That means that they've set themselves up to make a run at Howard that will be nearly as competitive as the offer the Lakers can make without having to use a sign-and-trade considering all the factors. In 2012-13, only three other teams had a lower cap hit than Houston - the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.
That equates to them being an immediate contender by adding Howard in the middle while needing no other key pieces to go away to make things work. Playing with James Harden and a budding star in Chandler Parsons on the wings has to be as desirable of a situation as there can be.
The most attractive thing about Houston is none of those things, however.
If he goes to Houston, it means that he wouldn't need to be the vintage Dwight Howard in order to succeed there. All he needs to do is clog the middle and give even a moderate effort on defense, and the Rockets can improve in their two most deficient areas from last season - opponents points allowed (102.5 PPG, 28th in the NBA) and blocked shots (4.4 BPG, 24th ) - and be contenders right away.
Hakeem Olajuwon, well-known for working with NBA bigs and someone who could help Howard refine his offensive game, would also be close by.
And then, there's the money.
Playing in Texas would allow Howard to avoid state income tax for game checks he receives for home games, something that could help offset the Lakers' advantage and trump anyone else's potential offer.
In their own version of the Texas two-step, the Mavs have plans to pursue Howard this offseason as well. Reports are they have looked into the possibility of trading the No. 13 overall pick in order to free up the cap space to do it. Dallas struggled in 2012-13 to a 41-41 record and narrowly missed the playoffs. Howard would likely make them a playoff contender, but they're missing several pieces to compete for a title.
Much like the Lakers, their best players, in this case Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, are nearing the end of their careers. Though Dallas holds the same advantages that Houston does in terms of tax savings, coupled with the fact that Mark Cuban is a noted players' owner, it's hard to imagine them doing enough as a franchise to convince Howard that they're the best long-term fit for him in the next chapter of his career. They have the cap space to make a convincing pitch, and that's enough to make them players in this giant offseason game.
Dwight Howard is from Atlanta and is a self-proclaimed country boy, so returning home to play down South is an obvious draw. Josh Smith is his childhood friend, and though Smith is a free agent himself, the two could return together in what would be a formidable frontcourt.
But there's a storyline buried beneath the surface as deep as the South itself. Earlier in May, the Hawks were reportedly pursuing Stan Van Gundy, who could reunite with Howard after the two had a messy divorce in Orlando.
That report had an interesting take from Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
"Howard has expressed some sentiment that he better appreciates Van Gundy as a head coach, despite their clashes together in Orlando that ultimately led to the coach's firing after the 2011-12 season."
If this is true, then it could set the stage for a ceremonious homecoming for the mercurial big man, who would then be out of the spotlight playing in a relatively small market.
But the most recent development in the ongoing SVG-D12 saga is that Van Gundy will not coach next season. Does this mean that it's less likely to happen? Or is it more likely now that Van Gundy's out?
Stay tuned for this one.
Much like the Rockets, the Warriors wouldn't need Howard to be Mr. Everything. They have the best backcourt in the league not yet in their prime in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. David Lee is an All-Star and All-NBA talent who can stretch the floor enough to create space for Howard to operate on the offensive end.
Howard may not be a game-changer on both ends, but he's a defensive force when healthy, and the Warriors need help badly in that area after giving up 100.3 points per game in 2012-13.
Signing him this offseason, however, will be a challenge.
The most feasible way they would acquire him would be in a sign-and-trade -- but that could cost them Harrison Barnes. Otherwise, Golden State is in "wait 'til next year" mode as they have near $75 million committed next season. With the Warriors set to play in a new arena to begin in the 2017-18 season, Howard could help usher in a new era of Bay Area basketball if the stars align correctly for it to happen.
In any scenario, the Dwightmare figures to get more interesting as the weeks wear on.
For more on the Lakers and the NBA, catch up with the author on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
(Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com)
- Sports & Recreation
- Dwight Howard
- Los Angeles Lakers